Shopping centres to have heart attack revival kits

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HEART defibrillators - used to treat people with cardiac arrests - are to be installed alongside fire extinguishers in stations, airports and shopping centres, as part of a government drive to improve the nation's health.

Tessa Jowell, the Health minister, will announce plans to supply the electric shock equipment in busy public places, to allow patients to get immediate treatment in an emergency.

The Government will train non-medical staff to use the defibrillators so that they can apply them to somebody who has a cardiac arrest straight away, without waiting for a doctor to arrive.

The scheme, which will be piloted around the country and extended to the whole country if it is successful, will be a central part of the Government's long awaited White Paper on public health. Other public places, such as pubs and clubs - where the risk of having a heart attack is high - are also likely to be targeted in the longer term.

Ministers have become particularly concerned by the high death rates from cardiac arrests in this country. They were shocked by figures, to be published in the White Paper, showing that fewer than 3 per cent of people in England survive a cardiac arrest, compared with almost 9 per cent in Scotland and 11 per cent in the United States.

The Department of Health is convinced that many of the deaths in this country could be avoided if people were treated more quickly. There is strong evidence that a defibrillator, even if it is being used by an amateur first aider, can significantly improve the chances of somebody surviving a heart attack.

The White Paper will include wide-ranging proposals to encourage people to have a healthy lifestyle, including targets for cutting death rates from cancer and heart disease. The Government will tell people to eat more healthily, take more exercise and give up bad habits such as smoking.

Members of the public will be educated to spot symptoms at an early stage as part of a drive to create a nation of "expert patients".

There are also controversial plans to consult on putting fluoride into the national water supply. The Government believes that this could be an effective way of cutting rates of tooth decay, especially among the young. However, the proposal will be fiercely resisted by pure water campaigners, who argue that it would be wrong to force people to take the chemical with their drinking water. Critics have also expressed concern about possible links between fluoride intake and osteoporosis.

Mental health will also be the focus of particular attention in the White Paper. The document sets tough targets for cutting the rate of suicide in Britain.

Doctors and social workers will be instructed to look out for signs of psychological problems and be more proactive about giving help. The Department of Health is determined that mental illnesses should be given the same priority as physical ones, amid growing concern that increasing numbers of people are taking their own lives as stress levels grow.